In my daily perusal of blogs and articles and comment threads on the Cubs, as well as my daily conversation with Cubs' fans of all varieties, I'm realizing more and more that so many of the Cubs' current players are unknown to the general fan base. And who can blame those fans? The Cubs have existed in their decrepit state of inadequacy for the better part of 4 years with a roster existing of Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and a bunch of no-name youngsters and washed-up journeymen. Long removed are we from the days of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Sammy Sosa. Personally, I haven't really liked or been excited for anyone on the major league roster since the days of Ryan Theriot (and he turned out to be a jerk after being traded to St. Louis and claiming that he was "finally on the right side of the rivalry").
Needless to say, it's been a while since the Cubs have had a slew of players who you could actually like and be excited about. So for the benefit of band wagon, passive, pseudo-passive, and avid Cubs' fans everywhere, I'm going to be starting a mini-series where we take a look at some of the current Cubs players who fans can get excited about and latch on to and actually cheer for (an unfamiliar concept for most Cubs' fans). What better way to start off this series than by taking a look at one of the newest faces on the big league roster? First up in the 'Get to Know Your Cubs' series is RHP Kyle Hendricks.
7 starts into his major league career, 24 year-old Kyle Hendricks has already drawn comparisons to former Cubs' great and recent Hall-of-Famer, Greg Maddux. While some argue that Kyle Hendricks' 5-1 record with a 1.66 ERA is a sign of the second-coming of Greg Maddux, other baseball purists insist that there will almost certainly never be another like Maddux. John Arguello at the Cubs Den wrote an insightful article comparing Maddux and Hendricks, and he gives a positive prediction of Hendricks' future without setting unreachable Maddux-like expectations for the poor kid. Whichever side you fall on, Hendricks has placed himself in an elite group with fellow starter Jake Arrieta as the future front-of-the-rotation pitchers for the Chicago Cubs.
Hendricks was drafted in 2011 in the 8th round out of Dartmouth College by the Texas Rangers. After being acquired in 2012 along with Christian Villanueva for Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto, Hendricks spent the rest of his 2012 season at High-A Daytona. In 2013, he spent time between AA Tennessee and AAA Iowa, where he went a combined 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA, earning him Cubs' Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors. To start this year, Hendricks was in Iowa, where he pitched to a record of 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA. This was good enough to earn him the call-up to the big leagues when Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were shipped out to Oakland.
Hendricks features a slightly above average fastball and change-up with decent movement and control, along with a below-average curveball. What makes him so effective, however, is his out-of-this-world intelligence (a Dartmouth education will help with that) and ability to change levels and induce weak contact. His .232 opponent BABIP may seem completely unsustainable, but for a pitcher like Hendricks (forces weak contact), you can expect the BABIP to be lower. While hitters may start to get harder contact off of him as they get more experience against him, he will always have a low opponent BABIP. This, coupled with his low FIP (3.54), explains his otherworldly ERA.
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), measures what a pitcher's ERA should be, independent of pitching, by using only a pitcher's HR%, KO%, and BB%. For reference, Maddux had a career 3.26 FIP and a career 3.16 ERA. This metric shows us that Maddux's defenses behind him throughout his career slightly helped him over the course of his career.
Hendricks may not have the jaw-dropping FIP of the current MLB aces, but he is within .3 points of one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. Yes he's only started 7 games. Yes the sample size is incredibly small. Yes he will regress at some point. But for his last 4 starts, people have been continually doubting his success. For the better part of the last 3 weeks, Hendricks' critics have been claiming that his current success is a fluke. Sure he will regress at some point (he's putting up Cy Young-like numbers currently), but let's sit back for a moment and enjoy the ride.
Hendricks' pitching style is eerily similar to Maddux, and he has been just as effective as any other pitcher in the majors to this point in his career. He lacks the devastating off-speed pitch that Maddux had, but Cubs' pitching coach Chris Bosio seems to have a knack for developing devastating off-speed pitches in his young pitchers (see Jake Arrieta, Neil Ramirez). You can't teach the natural instincts or intelligence that Hendricks possesses. What you can teach, however, his how to throw a curve ball.
One of the most incredible parts of next season (in a season full of prospect call-ups and development) will be the progress of Kyle Hendricks. Look for Kyle Hendricks to slide in right behind Jake Arrieta next year in what looks to be a promising, young rotation.
Ah, so this is what it feels like to be excited about the Cubs.